Sands Secondary Students Spiral into Solutions

Category: DistrictSchool

Over the last 18 months, students at Sands Secondary have been using an established research framework known as the Spiral of Inquiry, developed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser who also lead the Networks of Inquiry and Indigenous Education (NOIIE), to investigate complex issues and bring about positive change in their school community.

The Spiral of Inquiry has six key stages: scanning, focusing, developing a hunch, new professional learning, taking action and checking that a big enough difference has been made. At each stage in the spiral, three questions are asked: What is going on? How do we know? and Why does this matter? The spiral is never complete – new learning always brings about new questions, ways of knowing and new opportunities.

Social Media Spiral of Inquiry

In 2019, Ms. Macintosh, Vice Principal at Sands, began working with a group of action-oriented students who were interested in investigating the challenges faced by students as they navigate social media. This topic was also of great interest to Ms. Macintosh who, in her role as Vice Principal, was dealing with the fallout of students’ negative social media interactions on a regular basis.

“We had a hunch that many students were facing issues on social media. So we did a survey, which ended up confirming our hunch,” said Grade 12 student Kitty Lei. “More than 30% of Grade 8 students had encountered inappropriate messages or requests on social media.  We decided to take action by building on the foundations of a mentorship program that was already in place at Sands that would help give students the tools to navigate social media safely. However, we tried to make it more effective by pairing students in younger grades with an older buddy so that the younger students had a peer close to their age that they could go to for help and advice.”

As a result, a peer-to-peer mentorship program was born with the aim of building trust and relationships with Grade 8 students. Students met with their mentor on a regular basis and discussed various social media scenarios that they might encounter.

“Our goal was to get the students to take a more thoughtful approach to dealing with such difficult situations in real life. We encouraged them to discuss scenarios, ask questions and helped them to come up with strategies for dealing with issues like cyberbullying, sexting etc.,” said Grade 12 student Manjot Kandola. “Our focus was on slowing down students’ reactions to encourage them to think before they respond. It makes sense to get students to think about these things before they may happen to them in real life.”

At one point, the group got a little stuck with their action plan and didn’t know where to go next. Ms. Macintosh introduced them to Harvard Professors, Drs. Carrie James and Emily Weinstein who were working on a project relating to digital dilemmas. The students met the researchers over Zoom where they discussed and shared their findings and ideas. This conversation inspired the students to move forward with developing additional strategies and tools to support their fellow students.

Although the pandemic has put an end to in-person workshops this year, the students have still connected regularly over Zoom. The group are hoping that school life will return to normal by September 2021 and that face-to-face meetings can begin again.

Anti-Racism Spiral of Inquiry

A second spiral was started after Grade 12 students Rahul Sharma and Yuvraj Narula approached Ms. Macintosh with some questions relating to racism and bias in the school and local community.

A team was formed to inquire into the student experience at Sands and in the general community. “We scanned the school to learn more about students’ experiences and learned a lot about the presence of racism here in our own community,” said Grade 12 student Gurmanjit Singh. “The worst part was that racism was often brushed off as a joke. This creates a culture of normalized racism and slows down the process of progression.”

“From our survey results, we found that while students know racism is bad and that they shouldn’t be racist, they didn’t actually understand what racism is or that what they were doing was racist,” said Grade 11 student Mason Carter. “Students’ lack of knowledge of what makes them racist and why it hurts so much was a common theme from our research.”

The students developed an action plan to teach their fellow students about racism through a series of workshops. They also reached out to school district staff who have developed anti racism resources, which includes a comprehensive website (, had a Zoom meeting with MLA Ravi Kahlon to gain his perspective on racism, and also engaged with an anti racism and equity consultant to determine how best to engage with their peers.

Last month, the students started presenting their workshops to classes at Sands. They are examining how racism affects students and building active witnessing skills in students so that when students are confronted with racism, they will have the tools and language to identify it and deal with it effectively.

Mental Health Spiral of Inquiry

Another group of students have conducted a spiral into the impact of COVID-19, the quarter system and the resulting challenges on the mental health of students. An initial survey garnered mixed results with some students reporting they felt fine, while others felt stressed by the change and/or the pace of the quarter system.

The students worked with the District Manager of Prevention and School Wellness, Kirsten Hermanson, to highlight stress reduction resources for students. They created a webpage linked to the Sands Secondary website. Each week they highlight one resource, with the aim of raising awareness and giving students easy access to valuable resources. They were also successful in getting a neighbourhood small grant from Delta Foundation. Moving forward, they will survey students to see how well their campaign is working and will adjust their campaign  accordingly.

“With all of these spirals, I am really excited to see where these students go next as they further develop their action plan,” said Ms. Macintosh. “It has been so exciting working with these students as they have dug deeply into some serious issues. As well as benefitting the school community by looking into these important issues, the students themselves have felt a sense of self-determination in their learning and gained confidence in using their voices to make a real difference for others.”

Feedback from students involved in these Spirals of Inquiry has been overwhelmingly positive:

“I learned that even when you think you are done inquiring about something, you can always learn more. The Spiral of Inquiry is one of the most effective ways of learning and developing”

– Kitty Lei

“The Spiral of Inquiry is perfect for every decision that comes my way. When tackling a problem, I will scan my options, develop a hunch and then do research necessary to make an action plan.” – Anushka Talwar

“The best thing you can do if you want to make a difference in your school is to use your voice. Use your voice to express your opinions and use it be an advocate.” – Julia Burden

“Making a change is not easy an easy process.” – Yuvraj  Narula